Sunday, 29 September 2019

Heng Swee Keat on the Singapore economy: CNA938 interview

No need for extraordinary budget at this stage: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Singapore economy
By Tang See Lit, ChannelNewsAsia, 27 Sep 2019

While there are various scenarios in which the Government is ready to step in to support the economy, it does not see the need for an “extraordinary budget" at this stage, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Friday (Sep 27).

Nevertheless, the Government is closely monitoring how the economy will pan out by the end of the year, and is prepared to take action when necessary, he said during an interview with CNA938.



Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, was responding to a question about the state of the Singapore economy and the measures that the Government has in place should it decide to step in.

Currently, while there are increasing downside risks to growth, some sectors have continued to do well.

These include the information and communications technology, financial services and insurance services sectors. Even within the electronics sector, some segments like data storage have also seen growth, Mr Heng said.

“But how the whole economy will pan out by the end of the year is something we are watching very closely and are prepared to take action when needed,” he added.

This as Singapore remains part of the global economy and is “very dependent” on trade and external demand.

“This trade tension is not helping. In fact the International Monetary Fund has cut global forecasts several times, which is quite unprecedented. It’s (a) much more uncertain state today,” he said.

Mr Heng pointed to monetary and fiscal policies that the Government can turn to when it comes to counter-cyclical measures.



For the former, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is “weighing very carefully as to what is the appropriate exchange rate and they will be announcing this as part of the regular monetary cycle”.

In terms of fiscal policy, Mr Heng said: “Depending on the state of the economy, we have various scenarios in which we are ready to step in when the time comes. I do not foresee a need for an extraordinary budget at this stage.” 

But more importantly, these will have to go alongside structural policies given how the global economy is seeing a combination of cyclical and structural changes. 

“Many other economies also want to do better and therefore they are making changes and reforming their economy. When our trading partners make changes, we too must upgrade otherwise we will be left behind.

“So we have a whole range of important structural policies and in particular, helping our workers learn new skills and working together with companies to restructure jobs so our workers can do better,” he said.



ON 4G LEADERSHIP, ELECTIONS

During the nearly hour-long interview on Friday morning, Mr Heng was asked about a range of issues, including living costs in Singapore with an impending hike in the Goods and Services Tax, his journey in politics thus far as well as his leadership style.

I think we already have a very good team,” he said in response to a question from CNA938’s Arnold Gay on the qualities that he is looking out for as he forms the fourth-generation leadership team.

“Many of us have been working together when I entered politics in 2011 but at the same time, I am hoping for more to join us,” added Mr Heng, citing commitment to Singapore as a criteria and his hopes to assemble “a diverse group with experience”.

When asked how the next Cabinet reshuffle could play out given this vision that he has, Mr Heng said he and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong “have been discussing some of these issues quite regularly”.

Mr Lee has also been “sharing quite a lot of his views” with him.

“We are in discussions and when the time comes, he will announce it. But it’s progressing well and I am happy with the progress that we're making,” said Mr Heng.



As to when the next General Election might take place, Mr Heng would only say that “it’s coming nearer each day” before going on to stress the need for “constructive politics” in Singapore.

“I think the most important issue to address is: What are the issues that Singaporeans like to see tackled in the coming years? What is our strategy for taking Singapore forward?

“It is easy for anyone to say you’re not doing enough on this (and) that but I think what we need is constructive politics in Singapore, which is that I offer this vision of where Singapore is going to go and Singaporeans decide first and foremost do I like that? Second, are you able to get it done? It’s not making empty promises,” he added.

Mr Heng also touched on Singapore’s long-standing identity as a multi-racial and multi-religious society.

“The pledge that our children take every day – regardless of race, language or religion – it’s a very important aspect of our society. Let’s keep it,” he said.

However, this is “always a work in progress” as misunderstandings can happen very easily.

“First and foremost, misunderstandings can happen even between the closest people – a husband and a wife – but when it takes on racial religious dimension, it can be dangerous," he said.

"So it is important for our leaders to promote deeper understanding and appreciation of diversity, and value of that diversity.”



On new areas such as LGBTQ and green activism, and how the Government is thinking of uniting these different views, Mr Heng said many societies around the world are seeing increasing polarisation when single issues dominate the national discussion.

This is “a very dangerous trend and it can be a fault line”, he said, noting that Singapore must “work doubly hard” to make sure these do not become fault lines.

“Depending on the issues at hand, the key is to come together and say what we can agree on and what we cannot agree on,” he said.

With that, there has to be a much stronger emphasis on partnership moving forward, said Mr Heng.

“By looking at what we all have in common, what we want to pursue, we can help each other realise our aspirations better. Working together is always better than working alone.

“In that way, I think the Singapore society can continue to make progress in the years ahead.”

After his interview, Mr Heng unveiled a plaque to mark the launch of CNA938.


















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